Perth hotel owner Kate Sinfield is sick of hearing the WA Premier talk about how well the state’s economy and tourism industry are going as she struggles to keep her own business afloat.
- The WA Premier says the state’s tourism sector is “going very well”
- But city operators say many businesses are suffering
- The tourism industry is calling for more government support
In response to questions about the impact of another border closure on the state’s tourism industry this week, Mark McGowan said tourism businesses in the state’s regional areas were “chock-a-block” and going “incredibly well”.
But for Ms Sinfield, who owns the Murray Hotel in the Perth CBD, the claim did not ring true.
“When they say tourism is going great in WA … It just makes me really upset because so many people are suffering,” Ms Sinfield said.
“It is going great in a lot of places in WA, but it is not going great in all sectors of WA.
The occupancy level at Ms Sinfield’s hotel was about 22 per cent this year, up from 5 per cent when the pandemic first hit.
She has had to cut back from 15 staff to just three and had been relying on JobKeeper to keep those remaining staff employed, until the Commonwealth payment ended on Sunday.
“As of Monday it was as though the pandemic was over and everything was back to normal, but for us it is completely still the same,” she said.
“The international border is still closed, the interstate border is up and down, and we are running at a really low level.
“It is really bad. I don’t know how we are going to get out of this at all.
“It is not like a job I can quit or a lease I can walk away from. It is this big building and the bills keep coming in.”
More help needed to stay afloat
Ms Sinfield was no longer getting any state or federal government assistance and said it would not be possible to keep all her staff if further assistance was not offered.
“We are running at a third of the revenue we were pre-pandemic, as is most of the Perth city accommodation. We are all in the same boat,” she said.
According to the latest Tourism Council of WA industry survey, more than 29 per cent of tourism businesses had been forced to reduce staffing levels due to JobKeeper ending.
Tourism Council chief executive Evan Hall said urgent support was needed for tourism businesses that had been forced to shed staff and faced closure.
“During March, business activity across the industry declined by 20 per cent, according to our latest survey of tourism businesses,” he said.
“Now that JobKeeper has come to an end, many businesses have started shedding staff and many are at risk of shutting their doors.
“Pairing that with the recent interstate border closure with Queensland and ongoing consumer uncertainty in interstate travel, we expect thousands of jobs to be lost across the industry.”
Call for Perth flight subsidies
Mr Hall said Perth businesses and jobs had been the hardest hit in WA.
“Everyone is leaving Perth for the regions, but no one is visiting Perth from interstate or overseas,” he said.
“We are calling on the federal government to provide discount flights to Perth as it has done for other struggling cities such as Darwin, Adelaide, and Hobart.”
Mr Hall also called on both the federal and state governments to put programs in place to support the industry, asking the state government to consider voucher programs.
“It is critical that the federal government protects the industry by providing direct financial support to struggling tourism businesses until the vaccine rollout is complete,” he said.
“We urge the state government and Tourism WA to focus on voucher programs and marketing initiatives to target businesses that are struggling due to interstate border closures.
“The state government should also provide direct support to struggling tourism businesses by waiving government costs such as licence fees, land taxes, water rates and payroll tax.
“It is astounding to us in the tourism industry that we have borne the brunt of the economic cost of the international and the interstate borders.
“That has obviously protected the health of Western Australians, it has obviously been very popular, and it has helped the rest of the economy get going, particularly the resources sector – and that has brought a flood of money to the state government.
“We think it is only fair and right that some of that funding goes into assistance to the tourism industry.”
End of JobKeeper threatens viability
Ryan Mossny, who runs Two Feet & a Heartbeat walking tours in the CBD, said the business had not only suffered mass cancellations when the border to Queensland had been closed — but the losses continued through to almost the end of the year due to fears over another snap closure.
”So far I have refunded in excess of $10,000 to interstate travellers who won’t risk coming to WA; these cancellations run all they way through to October 2021,” Mr Mossny said.
He described JobKeeper as ”incredibly beneficial” and said it had allowed him to stay open and retain staff.
”Its ending has impacted not only my business but also all the others in the interconnected tourism and travel space,” he said.
Mr Mossny said he felt ”upset” when he heard Mr McGowan describe the tourism industry as chock-a-block.
”While this might be the case for regional accommodation providers, this is only one tiny section of our industry,” he said.
”Don’t get me wrong, I am happy for regional business that are seeing the benefit of the intrastate travel boom as they have done it tough for years.
”I am concerned about the city hotels, tour operators across the state, tourism attractions and travel agents who are now operating with great uncertainty and no ongoing support from any level of Government.”
Mr McGowan this week said many of the tourism businesses experiencing a downturn relied on international tourists more than interstate tourism.
“We can’t fix that, the international borders are closed,” he said on Tuesday.
“We offered a whole range of support packages for those businesses over the last year and obviously the main thing we have done is have the most vibrant, strong economy in Australia.”